For five years Ukraine’s Serheii Yemelianov and Australia’s Curtis McGrath have enjoyed a domination rarely seen in an international sport - the pair have not been beaten since they won paracanoe gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Of the six gold medalists from 2016, five will be defending their titles in Tokyo. But only Yemelianov and McGrath will be starting as favourites, bulwarks in a sport which has grown from a timid newcomer in Rio to a global force with athletes from every corner of the planet.

Both Yemelianov and McGrath are much stronger since Rio, and faster. They’ve had to be, to withstand the rapid improvement in coaching techniques and training methods which have raised dramatically the standard of international paddling.

33-year-old McGrath himself was still a relative newcomer to paracanoe when he turned up in Rio. It was only in the 12 months prior to the Paralympics that he started to show what he was capable of, and he has not looked back since.

New names have appeared since Rio, overtaking some of the athletes who have struggled to keep up with McGrath’s relentless determination and drive. Some have gone close to the Australian, most notably New Zealand’s Scott Martlew in the kayak and Brazil’s Caio Ribeiro de Carvalho in the Va’a.

But McGrath, who seems to make a habit of botching his start, always times his races to perfection. He’s been locked up in Australia for the past 18 months, so no-one really knows how much stronger and race-ready he will be in Tokyo.

McGrath’s journey from soldier in Afghanistan to Paralympic gold medalist is legendary and underlines why he seems more determined than many to succeed. He stepped on a landmine in 2012 and lost both his legs, but promised fellow soldiers who were desperately trying to save his life they would see him at the Paralympics.

28-year-old Yemelianov has broken English which has improved markedly since Rio. When you’ve been interviewed almost a dozen times after winning world titles or world cups, you tend to get the gist of the questions, and learn how to put your feelings into words.

What is most obvious watching Yemelianov in action is how much enjoyment he gets from the sport. His flowing beard hides the grin, but the sparkle in his eyes gives the game away. This is an athlete not only at the very top of his game, but one who is loving being there.

Like McGrath, he floated under the radar until the Rio Games, and has won every event he has entered since. He’s been paddling since he was eight.

At 13 he was involved in a train accident, which led to his leg being amputated. While many would have shelved their sporting dreams, Yemelianov refused to give in and is now the best KL3 paracanoe paddler in the world.

A media guide for the paracanoe Paralympic competition can be found here.

View the profiles of all competing athletes. Click on the menu above the athlete profile to see previous results, race footage, news articles and more.

The paracanoe competition begins on Thursday and will run through to Saturday.

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